Are you making your pasta all wrong? I was. Plus I recently learned some other tips that I should have known all along. This is a longish post, but the dish is super easy…
It turns out the best way to serve up a delicious plate of pasta is not to boil it up, mix it with a ton of sauce (perhaps with an extra dollop on top), or worse, pour the sauce onto a plate of just-drained pasta, and dig in.
I taste-tested this easy saucing technique, and it makes a world of difference. You simply reserve some of the pasta water, slightly undercook the macaroni, then toss it in the sauce on very low heat, adding pasta water as you go, for about 5 minutes. You can reserve a small amount of the sauce, if you like, to garnish the finished dish.
Chefs and good cooks do this. How did I miss out? I can only plead not guilty (or guilty?) by reasons of ignorance, expediency, and tradition.
This method of saucing pasta can be used with virtually any recipe, from a hearty tomato ragout to a delicate lemon pepper sauce. Even a plain Pasta Alio Olio gains flavour and a rich texture by allowing it to finish in a pan with its own pasta water.
I made Pasta with Tuna last night, using a small can of tuna— this it generally is not my favourite dish. It has tuna, sometimes peas or arugula in it, so I think of it as a somewhat healthy way to add fish to our diet.
This time, I used the saucing technique briefly described above, and also tried a different method of cooking onions and garlic, and the results were really flavourful and delicious, unlike my previous bland tuna and bows, which tasted like nothing other than canned tuna and a half-hearted dressing.
So here’s how I did it:
Bow Ties with Tuna and Slow-Cooked Onions
1 quarter onion, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
12-16 oz bow tie pasta (or shells, rotini or whatever strikes your fancy
2 handfuls arugula or spinach
1 tsp crushed chilies
1 – 170 g/6 oz can of chunk tuna in water
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley and/or grated Romano cheese (optional)
About an hour before serving, put the onions, garlic, about a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of water in to a sturdy pan; cover, and simmer on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until you are ready to add the mixture to your cooked pasta. It should be velvety smooth and not browned.
Put a LOT of salt into your pasta water; at least two tablespoons for a 2 quart pot. Cook the pasta until very al dente, about 8-10 minutes for bow ties. Save about 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain and set aside the pasta.
Place a couple of small handfuls of arugula (for a secret salad) in each of the serving plates. Top with a little olive oil and ground black pepper.
Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the pasta pot, then add the crushed chilies and tuna, breaking it into chunks. When the the tuna is heated through, add your pasta and onion/garlic mixture and about two teaspoons of ground black pepper. Toss gently, and add about a quarter cup of the reserved pasta water. Keep tossing, adding more pasta water, up to one cup, for about 5 minutes until the pasta is luxuriously coated with the sauce. Taste for seasoning, and serve atop the arugula salad (which will wilt and taste delicious.) Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and a little grated Romano cheese, if you are so inclined.
- If you don’t have time or don’t remember to start the onions and garlic ahead of time, just put them on for as long as you can, starting with a higher heat and reducing it to simmer.
- Add thawed frozen peas to the pasta while you are tossing it with the pasta water. Be sure to heat them through.
- Toss in a little grated lemon rind, or finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
- Use spinach instead of arugula for your secret salad.
- Chop up anything fresh from your garden and add it to your toss. I had some tender young leaves of kale that I used in the above recipe.
- Try this recipe with a small can of salmon.